It is the most famous street in the most beautiful city in the world, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a mile and a quarter of architectural wonder and opulence that crosses through the heart of Paris.
For more than 400 years, the rich and poor, the best and worst have traveled along the granite blocks that form that magnificent thoroughfare. It extends less than a mile and a quarter, runs northwest to connect the Place de la Concorde to Napoleon Bonaparte’s Arc de Triomphe, but it leads its travelers in whatever direction they choose.
I found myself on the Champs-Élysées during the Christmas season of 1997. It was the year in which Princess Diana of Wales died in Paris in a fiery crash in the Pont de ‘Alma tunnel, the year that Ira Einhorn was arrested and the year I turned 50 and quit smoking. It was Einhorn, “The Unicorn,” who brought me to France. I was there on assignment, writing a story about the man whose 16-year international cat and mouse game with police had come to an end.
Einhorn was larger than life, both repulsive and fascinating. An icon of the 1960s, he was a mysterious genius, a guru, a grand charlatan and, ultimately, a murderer. He hailed from Philadelphia, where he had been an impressive student in high school in the 1950s and an outstanding football player, good enough that he was awarded a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Einhorn, however, was difficult. At the university, professors marveled at his intellect but were frustrated by his aggressive personality. Always ahead of his time, he “turned on, tuned in and dropped out” years before Timothy Leary coined the phrase in 1967.
In 1961, Einhorn left Philadelphia and traveled to California, where he mixed with the growing radical element in Berkeley and Palo Alto. By the time he returned to City of Brotherly Love in 1964, he was a credentialed initiate of the long-haired counterculture, one who had taken LSD with Ken Kesey, studied Eastern religions and preached the religious aspects of marijuana. He assumed the nickname “The Unicorn,” derived from the translation of his German-Jewish surname, and he spoke the language of hippies long before it was heard in the mainstream. He had qualities that made him an anomaly in mid-1960s Philadelphia, and he soon found a way to manipulate them to his advantage. Einhorn fed off audacity. Quick-witted and charming, he was also insulting, burly and overbearing. Having conned his way into a position as an adjunct teacher of metaphysics at his alma mater, he once stripped naked in class and danced around the room while smoking marijuana. He dominated most conversations and was usually the center of attention. His bushy hair and beard were often uncombed, he bathed irregularly and his body odor was prevalent. Nonetheless, his eyes reflected a burning intelligence. He seduced numerous women with his wit and won men over with his intellect.
Most of the time, Einhorn proudly managed to live without ever working at any actual job. Others supported him. By the early 1970s, he had established himself as the leading spokesman for Philadelphia’s hippies, a teacher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Free University and a New Age guru who aggressively preached pacifism. His circle of friends included the cream of the counterculture—among them, Jerry Rubin, Abbie Hoffman, Alvin Toffler and Allen Ginsberg. He had created a network of intellectuals for which he served as the hub and dubbed himself “a planetary enzyme.” He was on the cutting edge of the youth movement, was master of ceremonies at Earth Day in 1970 and ran a satirical race for mayor of Philadelphia in 1971. Always on someone else’s tab, he regaled audiences in his sparse apartment and at his favorite French restaurant, La Terrasse, near his alma mater.
He was holding court at La Terrasse when he met Holly Maddux in 1972. It was a beauty and the beast pairing. Maddux was Einhorn’s opposite. Blond, beautiful, with striking Arian features, she was a product of East Texas, where she had been a high school cheerleader in Tyler, graduated salutatorian and was voted “most likely to succeed” in her class of 1965. A talented dancer and a sharp student, she was quiet, polished and reserved, hiding her feelings behind a Mona Lisa smile. That smile, however, masked a deep dissatisfaction with small-town East Texas. After graduation, she passed up proffered scholarships to Texas schools and left for Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, then traveled in Europe and Israel after graduation there. Despite her education and ability, she never settled on an occupation but floated from one location and job to another. By 1972, she had worked her way to Philadelphia and Ira Einhorn. They were in bed within an hour of their first visit, Einhorn later boasted, and within days, Maddux had moved in with the guru. That began a stormy, five-year relationship during which Einhorn alternately dominated, abused, courted and supplicated Maddux. For her part, Maddux often defied Einhorn, but seemed drawn to him. Periodically, she left him, but never with conviction and always to return.
That is until the summer of 1977. That summer Einhorn and Maddux toured England, where Einhorn spoke to groups researching paranormal, psychic theories. The couple fought repeatedly. Toward the end of the trip, Maddux wrote her family that she had decided to leave Einhorn. Then, shortly after she and Einhorn returned to Philadelphia, she disappeared. Einhorn said she left. Maddux’s family, fearing the worst, reported her missing. But Philadelphia police gave perfunctory treatment to the case, believing she was a grown woman who had set out on her own. Her relatives persisted, however, and hired a private investigator. Almost two years after she had vanished, the investigator convinced police to search Einhorn’s apartment. On April 28, 1979, investigators opened a padlocked closet on Einhorn’s porch and found a locked steamer trunk inside. In the trunk was the mummified body of Holly Maddux, shrunken to 37 pounds. She had been beaten to death, suffered at least a dozen skull fractures and a broken jaw.
Einhorn was charged with murder and his defense was characteristically outrageous. He had been keeping sensitive documents from behind the Iron Curtain in the trunk, he said. Sinister forces, including the CIA and the KGB (apparently working in unison), had killed Maddux, removed the documents and placed her body in the trunk to implicate him. The case was the talk of Philadelphia, and Einhorn’s bond hearing was almost a social event. With Arlen Specter (later to become U.S. Senator Arlen Specter) as his attorney and a host of influential character witnesses, Einhorn was freed on $40,000 bail, using his mother’s house as collateral.
On Jan. 13, 1981, the day his trial was to begin, he was nowhere to be found. Einhorn became a fugitive. Eventually he was spotted in Dublin, Ireland, a country that had no extradition agreement with the U.S. He began hop-scotching around Europe. Aided by funds from his wealthy friends, among them Barbara Bronfman, then-wife of Charles Bronfman, heir to the Seagram’s fortune in Canada, Einhorn bounced around Europe for years.
In 1993, he was tried in absentia in Philadelphia and convicted of Maddux’s murder. By then he had begun living in England with Annika Flodin, daughter of a wealthy Swedish family with interests in the fashion industry. It is unclear whether Flodin knew of Einhorn’s fugitive status, but she did assume an alias. Supported by Flodin’s wealth, the couple moved to the remote French wine country village of Champagne-Mouton, where they purchased a historic mill that had been converted to a home. They assimilated well. Flodin was popular in town, regarded as a sort of “earth mother” with a ready smile, a woman who baked her own bread and was environmentally conscious. Einhorn, using the name “Eugene Mallon,” was rarely seen, spoke no French and conversed only with the few English-speaking residents and members of a bridge club he joined. Members of the club found him unpleasant. But he was a good bridge player, so they tolerated him. He seemed content to remain in his house and work with the elaborate computer system he had installed there.
Then, in June, 1997, Annika Flodin registered her automobile in her real name. Knowing that Einhorn was living with Flodin, police noted the address on the registration, and Einhorn was arrested and jailed, briefly. Supported by Flodin’s family, Einhorn hired attorney Dominique Delthil of Bordeaux, one of France’s finest, and Delthil fought extradition. Appealing to the French disdain for the death penalty, he contended that barbarous American courts would inflict death on Einhorn, whose only crime was social dissidence. French courts sided with Delthil, citing Einhorn’s trial in absentia. Einhorn was released on personal recognizance and, once again, appeared to have beaten the odds.
The story appealed to me. I had read Steven Levy’s excellent book, The Unicorn’s Secret, about the murder and Einhorn’s flight. I also had a tenuous connection to the Maddux family. My wife had known Holly and her siblings as a child and had introduced me to Holly Maddux’s sister, Buffy. I also held an enviable position with the Houston Chronicle. Shrinking ad revenues had not yet crippled newspapers. I had found a niche as a “writer at large” and was given great leeway with stories. I had earned it, I thought. For years I had started early and quit late, written and rewritten and agonized over every turn of phrase. My efforts had paid off. The editors had confidence in me and allowed me to pursue the stories I chose. I had built my foundation well.
So, I packed for France. All I brought was clothes, passport, pens, notebooks, computer and the ever-present package of Marlboro Reds. Having turned 50, I had resolved to quit smoking but, having lied to myself for years as I puffed away, I found that I had to lie to myself to stop it. The idea that I would never again touch a cigarette was overwhelming, austere, too much to bear. I had not “quit” cigarettes, I told myself. I simply hadn’t smoked one in a while. To assure myself of that fact, I kept a package in my breast pocket at all times.
Once in Lyon, I set about gathering information and arranging interviews. My job, I decided, was to do more than just interview all the characters. It was to find out what Einhorn’s life was like in France, to talk to as many people as possible who had contact with him and to try to talk to Einhorn, as well. I had little hope for the latter. Since his arrest, Einhorn had refused all requests for interviews from American journalists. We knew too much about his past. I also faced another hurdle. My French was terrible and Champagne Mouton was deep in the wine region of the south. Few spoke English in that area, and I knew I would need help. I soon enlisted a young French journalist as an interpreter and guide, a freelancer from Paris who was intrigued by the story and accompanied me on most of my interviews.
The story seemed to fall together. I found Einhorn’s attorney, the judge in his case, city officials and town residents who knew The Unicorn. I even tracked down members of his bridge club. Time and again, I heard the French question the justice of a trial in absentia, of the inherent danger in the American penchant for the death penalty, the possibility that Einhorn was telling the truth and was innocent. I took it in stride and politely did the interviews. I wasn’t in France to question the French attitude toward justice, only to report on it.
At the same time, I gathered information on Einhorn. I located his home just outside town. Like many of the buildings in the town, it appeared to be at least 400 years old, a two-story stone structure with a gated drive and well-tended flower gardens at the front. I also learned what I believed had drawn The Unicorn to Champagne Mouton. Ancient, quaint and secluded, it was an idyllic French town, but not one that drew many tourists. Open-air bistros dotted its cobble-stoned streets. Residents walked their dogs along its walkways in the crisp, December air. Children played in its park. Each Wednesday, a farmers market was set up in the square, where locally grown produce, chickens, pigs and bread were sold. “Eugene Mallon” and Annika were often seen shopping at the market. I decided to stake them out on friendly turf. Encountering them in public would be better than knocking on an unanswered door at the mill. I was certain that if I made an initial attempt at the home, I would never come face to face with Einhorn.
Wednesday arrived, and my guide and I parked ourselves in a cafe with a clear view of the market. It was clear and bright, almost balmy for December, and the square was bustling. As we drank coffee and watched the commerce, I thought about the story I had come to write. I had reached the point of research that was always bittersweet to me. I had everything except Einhorn, and I didn’t really need him, or so I thought. I didn’t want to create an ugly scene in this quiet little town, which was entirely possible. I also had no desire to listen to his ridiculous alibi, even if he was willing to talk to me. Einhorn was no fool, and that would work in my favor. He would undoubtedly turn me down if he didn’t take a swing at me. Still, l had to make an effort to speak to him. That’s how I had been trained. It’s what professional journalists do.
Then, they were there. Annika Flodin, smiling, slight, blond, freckled, wearing a light coat and jeans, and beside her, The Unicorn. He was lighter than he had been in his youth, his legs almost bandy, almost thin in a pair of denim shorts. The hair had gone white and was now trimmed closely, the beard trimmed. Yet it was unmistakably him. The eyes, with their intense stare, were unchanged. As we stepped from the cafe and moved toward them, those eyes rose and met mine. There was an immediate reaction. He did not know me, but he instantly knew who I was. He knew from my appearance that I was no French local, that I was headed in his direction and he wanted nothing to do with me. Quickly, he grabbed Flodin’s arm and hustled her from the market. They walked briskly to a small car, parked nearby and jumped in.
“Hurry, get the car,” I told my guide, as I moved to the corner to see which way they went. My guide was back in a moment. I jumped in the passenger seat and the pursuit began. As we sped out of Champagne Mouton with Einhorn barely in view, I realized that he was heading back to the converted mill. “Keep after him,” I said. “They’ll stop.” He and Flodin arrived at their home just as we were catching up to them, and I could see Einhorn scuttling from the car toward the front door, with Flodin behind him. My guide pulled up at the entrance and stopped. I saw that, in their haste, they had not shut and locked their front gate.
“Wait,” I told him. “I’m going in.”
“NO,” my guide said. “You can’t do that in France. It’s trespass.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “I didn’t come all the way from Texas to stop at the front gate.”
I walked to the front door and knocked. There was no answer. I knocked again. I stepped back and yelled, “Mr. Einhorn. My name is Evan Moore. I am a writer for the Houston Chronicle, and I would like to talk to you.”
A face appeared at an open upstairs window, but it was not Einhorn’s. The eyes that looked at me were not the burning orbs that had spotted me in the market. They were Annika Flodin’s eyes, soft, pitiful and brimming with tears.
“We know who you are,” she said, in accented English. “Please, please go away. My husband will not talk to you. Go away. Go away.”
I watched her face recede from the window. I turned and headed back to the car. I had done my job. I had chased Einhorn to his retreat, and now I could write a tale of a man who beat one woman to death, only to hide behind the skirts of another. I felt good, satisfied, pleased with myself and only slightly cruel. Still, Annika Flodin’s eyes followed me onto the bullet train to Paris the next day. They blinked at me in tear-filled angst as my interpreter and I played gin rummy in the club car. They rode with me in the taxi to my hotel and up the elevator to my room.
Finally, I dismissed them. “The woman is a fool,” I thought. “She made her own bed, and now she can lie in it. These French people, with their gorgeous cities, their excellent food, their amazing art and their wonderful wine, they’re foolish as well. If they can listen to this bombastic bastard with his ridiculous tales of the CIA and the KGB, they’re just not as discerning as I am. I turned my thoughts to my one night in Paris. I would not have time to see the Louvre nor many of the other things I would have visited as a tourist. I had to be in London the next day to begin work on another story. I could, however, see one sight: the Champs-Élysées at its most beautiful.
I had read of the street many times. More than just a modern wonder, it dates to 1616, when Marie de Medici decided to plant trees along the path to the Tuileries Gardens. The path later became the Champs-Élysées, named for the Greek Elysian Fields, the burial ground for heroes. Over the years, it was widened and, because of the many historic landmarks along its path, it became the primary route for parades and celebrations in Paris. Today, the avenue is a special part of city in the weeks leading to Christmas, and it is decorated as only the French can. In the evening, its wide lanes are closed to vehicular traffic and hordes of shoppers wander freely up and down its streets. Along the sidewalks, the carefully trimmed horse-chestnut trees are filled with lights that resemble snowflakes. The shops and restaurants are all decorated, and music can be heard playing from various clubs.
With the Champs-Élysées as my destination, I slipped on my overcoat, felt for my cigarettes and my card case in the left breast pocket and headed out to the avenue. I took a cab from my hotel. The driver was loquacious and began pointing out sights as we passed them. As we reached the Pont de ‘Alma road tunnel, he gestured toward a long, jagged scar on one of the concrete walls.
“That’s where it happened,” he said. “Right there is where Princess Diana and her boyfriend died, where they were chased to their death by the paparazzi.”
Once again I thought of Annika Flodin. But we were nearing my destination and the cab came to a stop. I stepped out and into an exotic environment. It was the most brilliant lighting display I had ever seen. I began walking, still buoyed by the self-satisfaction of having wrapped up a good story. All along the thoroughfare, people seemed happy, festive. I heard laughter and music. I reveled in the scents of the avenue. I passed a parfumerie and the overwhelming, almost cloyingly sweet smell of perfume filled the cold night air. That was offset by the familiar aroma of smoke from a fine cigar. Unlike America, the French had no trade embargo with Cuba and Cuban cigars were available.
I looked across the street at a small Tabac shop and spotted the source of the aroma. A man was near the shop door and had just lit what appeared to be a large panatela. The scent was intoxicating. I felt the cigarettes in my pocket. I didn’t want a cigarette. I wanted a cigar. After all, I had just completed a yeoman’s job. I deserved one. I walked into the shop and bought a long, black Cuban Robusto. I bit off the end and had just stepped outside to light up when I noticed someone in front of me.
He was a small man, shorter than I, maybe 30 and rather nondescript with a slightly olive complexion and brown hair. He was wearing what appeared to be a leather jacket that could have been either very expensive or a good imitation. And he was looking at me with an almost mocking smile.
“Say,” he said. “Give me a cigarette.” The words might have been spoken with some accent, but it was slight. The smile was wider now, however, clearly insolent, and the statement was an order, not a request.
“I don’t think so,” I said, with a smile that I hoped was equally insulting as I stepped around him. I took two steps, and he was there again, this time with his hand on my arm.
“I said, ‘Give me a cigarette,’ American,” he said.
“Get your hand off me and get away from me,” I told him and muscled by him, heading to the curb and a side street intersection. I stepped off the curb and, suddenly, he was there again, immediately in front of me. I stumbled over him, and he seemed to stumble backward as well and clutched at my coat. We staggered across the street like two drunken dancers, almost falling. Once across, he let go and I regained my balance. I looked at him, still mocking me with that grin, and I was suddenly angry.
I grabbed his jacket, slammed him against a light pole and, for a moment, was about to ram my fist into his smirking face when something stopped me.
“Look,” I said. “I don’t want to hurt you. Just get the hell away from me and leave me alone.” I let him go, and he backed away and into the crowd without a word. I stood there for a moment, straightening my clothes and was about to walk back down the avenue when he appeared in front of me again.
“Be careful, my friend,” he said. “Paris is a city of thieves.”
He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out my card case and handed it to me. I stared at it in shock, and he backed away, smiled again, waved and was lost in the crowd. My French francs were in that wallet, my passport, all my credit cards. My stomach sank with the instant realization that he had picked my pocket. I had just been taken, duped. I was a mark. That man was mocking me, alright. He wanted me to know it and had stolen me blind. Slowly, I opened the wallet and, with a sick feeling, looked inside.
It was all there. My passport, my cards, my French francs, my Texas driver’s license, the picture of my son smiling back at me. Nothing was missing, nothing touched. I stared for a moment in disbelief, then tried to catch sight of the little man again. He was nowhere to be seen. I began retracing my path down the avenue. My self-satisfaction shattered, I walked at least a half-block before I realized I was still smoking the cigar. I needed to reflect on what had just occurred. I stepped into a small, crowded bar and ordered a brandy. I sipped it and wondered: What just happened? Why did that man pick my pocket, only to give my wallet back to me? Who was he? What was he?”
Just to my right, I noticed a May-September couple eyeing me. The woman was young, pretty. The man was older, distinguished. They were obviously a couple and had been one long enough to reach a plateau of complacency with one another. The man leaned toward me and smiled.
“Pardon me,” he said in a strong, French accent. “You are American? My wife does not speak English, but she wonders.”
“Yes,” I replied.
“My wife would like to ask, ‘What do you think of Paris?’”
I hesitated for a moment before telling them what had just happened. As I recounted the tale and the husband translated, I watched the woman’s expressions. Interest, surprise, incredulity, then deep consideration.
“I can’t figure this out,” I told them. “This man had to be a pickpocket, a thief. But why would he give my wallet back to me? Who in the hell is he?”
The older man smiled and shrugged. “Who knows?” he said. “Strange things happen in Paris.”
I left for London the next morning, riding in a cab past the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, past the beautiful streets and architecture that form Paris, past the Louvre and past the jagged scar in the concrete wall of the Pont de ‘Alma road tunnel. I thought of Princess Diana who died there, chased by a crowd of paparazzi and chauffeured by a drunken driver. I thought of the tears in Annika Flodin’s eyes and wondered how much I had in common with those paparazzi. I thought of the man who had picked my pocket, and I thought of Einhorn. I knew I had learned something, but I wasn’t sure what.
It took years for that lesson to jell. It was nothing new. Robert Burns knew it centuries before when he wrote To a Mouse. Uncertainty reigns supreme. “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley.”
For four years after I chased him from the market in Champagne Mouton, Ira Einhorn basked in self assurance. He thumbed his nose at American courts, appeared on television shows to proclaim his innocence and sipped wine while posing naked for photographers in the garden of his converted mill house.
That all ended in July, 2001, when Einhorn was extradited and tried again in Philadelphia. Initially, he cut his own throat but failed to kill himself and recovered. Months later he received a life sentence.
The niche I thought was so secure began to crumble a few years later as the creeping miasma of declining newspaper profits found its way to Houston. Long, in-depth features were icing on the cake for newspapers. “Writers at large” became expendable. Faced with shrinking parameters I left the job I had spent the better part of my adult life building and sought a new career.
Diana never intended to die in that tunnel.
I’ll probably never know what became of the man who picked my pocket. I’ll probably never see him again. I’m not certain, however. I’ll never be certain again.
If I do see him, I’ll hand him one of my Marlboro Reds.